Unpaid product Placement: The Elephant in the Room in the UK’s New Paid-For Product Placement Market

Chris Hackley, R.A Hackley nee Tiwsakul

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Paid-for product placement was permitted for the first time on commercial TV in the UK by media regulator Ofcom in February 2011. At the time of writing, some 12 months later, estimates suggest there have been fewer than 20 paid placement deals, amounting to revenue less than 2% of the £150 million optimists estimated the industry to be worth. In this commentary we draw on confidential and informal interviews with industry insiders to set previous academic research in the field within the UK’s unique regulatory context, and we highlight problems inherent in the new industry. Foremost among these is the reluctance of the broadcasters and Ofcom to acknowledge that the free prop supply system that has provided branded scene props to UK productions, including the BBC, for some 30 years, has been and continues to be a de facto product placement industry. Given that, even in a mature paid-for placement market such as the USA, industry insiders estimate that 80% of brands on TV are not paid for , we argue that unpaid product placement, also known as free prop supply, is the elephant in the room in regulation and academic research. We make suggestions as to how the impasse in the UK TV product placement industry might be resolved, and we outline ways in which academic research might play a supporting role.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)703-718
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Advertising
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


  • Product placement
  • media policy
  • ofcom
  • Uk TV
  • BBC

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